When you first get married, all you can think about is picking out furniture, putting away wedding gifts, and starting your lives together. Maybe also – especially if you’re a guy – how weird it is to wear the ring. The last thing any couple wants to do? Talk about death.
Unfortunately, getting married also means taking on extra responsibilities. You’re each probably starting to rely on the other’s income, and joint finances – whether or not you totally combine – means having to consider wills, life insurance, and more.
We get it. Thinking about this stuff feels a bit morose and most people don’t plan to die anytime soon. But if the worst happens, these steps could help your loved ones when they really, really need it.
Couples often realize they need life insurance when it comes time for a mortgage or kids. That’s because life insurance can help a surviving partner make mortgage payments or cover children’s expenses.
But if you pass away, life insurance can also help pay your family’s rent, living expenses, other debts you leave behind, final expenses like burial and estate taxes, and your unpaid medical bills or taxes. On top of that, if your partner was a co-signer on your student loans or you acquired student loan debt during marriage in a community property state (AZ, CA, ID, LA, NV, NM, TX, WA, and WI), they might be liable for your student debt if you pass away. If that’s the case, you should seriously consider life insurance.
For many people, term life is a better option than permanent, which has higher premiums. And, of course, only buy as much life insurance as you need.
Even if you and your partner barely have any assets, it might still be a good idea to create a will. A properly-executed will allows a surviving partner to receive access to your assets faster than they otherwise could.
That’s because most of the time, a probate court must determine who’ll get anything that the deceased person left behind. With a will in place, the probate process is generally easier and faster. If you’re feeling extra creative, you can carefully craft a will to avoid probate entirely. Whatever kind of will you’re looking for, you’ll need to hire a lawyer or use a site like LegalZoom.
Add A Beneficiary…Maybe
For certain assets – like retirement accounts, certain investments, and life insurance – you can specify a beneficiary. If you don’t have a will and you know who you’d like to transfer those assets to when you die, you should add a beneficiary to the asset. Also, if don’t have a will and you want to transfer the asset to someone besides your spouse, you should probably include a beneficiary designation.
But if you have a will, be careful. Naming a beneficiary will get the asset into their hands faster. But your beneficiary designations will override your will. So make sure you think through your choices and review them at least every few years.
Know Your Accounts
Do you know where your husband has his 401k? How about his savings account? If he passes away, these are not details you want to worry about.
Maintaining a list (in a secure place) of all relevant financial accounts will make things easier. Consider using password managers like LastPass and DashLane, which allow you to securely store usernames/passwords and share them with your partner.
Another morbid but important problem to consider is who would raise your kids if something happened to you and your partner. Ideally, you’d write your preference in a will to avoid any dispute afterward. Along the same lines, consider working with a lawyer to set up a trust for your children, in case something happens.
None of these conversations are fun. But knocking them out now will be much easier than dealing with them during a time of crisis. Plus, you’ll be able to brag to your parents and slacker friends about how responsible you are. That’s always nice.